“Uncle Ben” (Benjamin Etting) Hays

Benjamin Etting Hays (1779-1858) inherited the large farm that had been left to his father David by David’s brother Michael.

“Uncle Ben,” as he was known throughout the country, was the only Hebrew farmer in Westchester County in his day. He was strictly orthodox in his religious belief and adhered closely to all the forms and ceremonies observed by the most pious and devout of his race. In order to conform to the prescribed dietary laws he obtained a certificate, authorizing him to kill his own meat.

This pious Hebrew, though living in a comparatively remote section and completely isolated from his co-religionists, observed the Mosaic law as strictly as though he lived in their midst, and enjoined upon his children a like observance. On his extensive farm he contented himself by going over the fields a single time in garnering the hay and the grain, their leavings, together with the fruit that fell to the ground, being left for the benefit of the poor, thus following out the Biblical injunction. “Uncle Ben” was universally loved and respected. An old Quaker once assured him that he was “the best Christian in Westchester County.” He was also a man of generous impulses, and among his charities may be mentioned the donation of a piece of land to the Trustees of the School District, on which to build a school, the sole proviso being that the school should be free to all without discrimination.

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[i] “A Family’s History in Letters, Ledgers and Deeds” by James Feron, New York Times, April 22, 1990.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

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Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He then taught as an adjunct at Stevens until 2014. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.